Photo: Patrick McMullan
Parker Posey is so identified with independent film that it’s not a surprise to see her at the Sundance Film Festival again this year with her new film, Price Check — in fact, when the Sundance lineup was announced, New York Times journalist David Carr tweeted “Parker Posey = Sundance, right?” Indeed, Posey’s made a significant mark at the festival, and she’s starred in countless movies that have played there, including House of Yes (which she won a special Grand Jury Prize for), Clockwatchers, Personal Velocity, Fay Grim, and Broken English. But her close association with Sundance has also given her a unique vantage point on the changing landscape of independent film, and she called up Vulture to say that despite the virtues of a festival dedicated to smart, small-budget movies, in some ways, things are harder than ever.
You’re returning to the festival with Price Check. At this point, when you do an independent movie, do you still get excited when you get the call that your film got into Sundance? Or do you think, Oh, I’ve got this in the bag?
Oh my God, no! I always get excited. Getting into Sundance is such a big platform for a director. Michael Walker, who wrote and directed Price Check, he’s now going to get an agent, and he’s got a second film in the works. And this was a really low-budget movie — it was lower than Broken English. You just never know if your movie’s going to get in, and when it does, it’s a big, big help because it can really change someone’s life to shake those hands and make those connections. It’ll show up on Netflix now; it’ll get the movie seen.
What do you remember about that first time you went to Sundance?
It was 1995, I think, for Party Girl. It felt great, it felt like there was a movement happening and that movies were cool. People were more accessible, and it was more intimate. It seemed to all happen on Main Street, and you’d go up and down the hill to try to get tickets to all these movies, or walk in somewhere and have a conversation with Tom DiCillo or these film buyers. It was positive, so positive, and so creative. It wasn’t about money. It wasn’t about money! It was about new voices, it was about filmmaking.
Had things changed at all by the time you went back to Sundance in 1997 for House of Yes, Clockwatchers, and Suburbia?
That was the beginning of the independent cinema machine, you know? That was the beginning of Harvey Weinstein. Everyone had come in saying, “The culture is ready for cinema! It’s ready for stories, and for auteurs,” but then it became about packages. It was also around the time when it really started to be reported how much money films would make on their opening weekend. So that’s what was going on in the culture then. Do you remember? You also started to see the Prada bag everywhere. [Laughs.]
Did you ever have a swag moment at Sundance?
It always weirded me out. It’s like stealing something! I’m too Catholic.
You were in The Daytrippers, which actually played at Slamdance, not Sundance. It surprised me to remember that it wasn’t a Sundance movie.
That movie is so charming and easy and effortless! For a while there, it felt like independent movies had to be about doing drugs or dying, these sensationalized emotional things, and Daytrippers is so easy. A lot of time, festivals look for edge — it’s just people’s tastes, you know? Some people think art needs to be provocative, and others don’t.
2007 must have been a special year for you at Sundance, with both Broken English and Fay Grim.
I loved the voice of [Broken English] director Zoe Cassavetes, and I would have girls come up to me and talk about how much that movie meant to them and we’d have these conversations about love. But it’s sad, because there wasn’t enough financial support for those movies to make a splash outside of Sundance. I still feel that it costs a lot of money to get your film shown and to get it supported in our culture right now, so it’s always bittersweet. Even a movie like Beginners, which has gotten a lot of attention, I’m sure it was made for $1.2 [million], which is a lot. Price Check was half that much, and that’s painful in these times, being my age! [Laughs.] But when people don’t fork up 4 to 7 million dollars, you have these editors at newspapers and magazines who are like, “We really like this movie, but we have these alliances with other people right now, so we can’t [feature you].” It’s not going to make a splash if it hasn’t been paid for.
And the landscape of indie movies has changed so much. I mean, even the last Lars von Trier movie premiered on demand first, not in theaters.
Yeah, it’s very different. And the more I talk about it, the more I think it could liberate independent cinema, because there’s not that same pressure about what you make on your opening weekend. Maybe talent will take precedence over how a movie does! I mean, if you get the money and you get the movie into Sundance and it’s going to be seen, what else is there to complain about? That you’re not a millionaire? That’s not really cool anymore. I feel like there’s such a responsibility when you make a film, to enlighten people, to make them think, to make them laugh, or even just to be entertaining. Sometimes I go to movies and it’s just a bombardment, and I’m not entertained by them — I’m assaulted by them! And I know I sound like such a drama queen, but I find that really strange.
In 2010, you were a part of the jury at Sundance. What was it like to go through the looking glass?
I was lucky because everyone else on that jury felt like the voice of the filmmaker was so important. What place are you coming from? What are you giving us? We were all on the same page. You know, not all the movies were exceptional, but there were a few that really stood out, and I think it’s hard with a medium that has kind of exhausted itself to make a story that feels original. Not everyone can, although anyone can pick up a camera. One movie I loved was 3 Backyards, Eric Mendelsohn’s film — I mean, this is a real voice! This is a real director! I think that movie felt really true to him, just like Sympathy for Delicious felt really true to everyone who made that film. Juliette Lewis was so exceptional in that film, and it deserved something — it wasn’t a perfect movie, but we gave it something. [Whereas with] Blue Valentine, we were like, “That movie’s gonna sweep the nation. It’s just too cool, it doesn’t need any help.” But it’s so hard to make a movie. It’s so hard to get financing. I think the whole system has become really humbled.